Sheltered from cooling afternoon rains by a thatched roof structure on the Zimbabwe side of its border with Zambia, I started applying context to a few days of exclusively South African wines. I, like lots of American wine drinkers, don’t pay a lot of attention to the category. The US does not even rank in the top five South African export markets. Yet, a few days of bouncing around the Cape Peninsula before shooting up to Zimbabwe produced my first small window on what turns out to be a serious, quality driven, southern hemisphere wine industry deep into its own rehabilitation.
A recap of my stand out experiences and wines will take shape here in near-future posts. Rest assured, I tasted wines with deserving places on the global stage and have plans to share a white wine recommendation that I believe is made, and is drinking, as well as many pricier, well known Rhône Valley blends. If taking a better look at the value laden, dramatically upgraded South African wine category interests you, and in case you are not yet familiar with it, then your first step should be an introduction to “Platter’s South African Wines; an annual guide to cellars, vineyards, winemakers, restaurants, and accommodations”. At a friend’s urging, I picked up a copy on a Capetown newsstand and it offered consistent and deep rewards as I picked my way through exclusively South African wine lists.
2010 is the 30th anniversary edition offering complete listings of all Cape wines. I have not found one winery on an African list that has not been included. Platter’s employs a star rating system from no stars to five stars, or “Very Ordinary” to “Superlative Cape Classic”. Each winery’s top wine(s) are called out in red at the head of the listing. There is always a short, get-to-the-point write up, and the guide’s reviews are prefaced with 133 pages of “Tops Lists”, industry information, helpful wine country touring tips on hotels and restaurants, past vintage recaps, and much more. Besides feeling authoritative, and finding it’s reviews completely reliable so far, I became married to the book when I looked up the completely magical, head-turning white wine I swooned over at lunch, 2008 Sadie Family Vineyards Palladius, to discover Platt’s named it “2009 White Wine of the Year and 2009 Winery of the Year!”
For sure, the guide has a venerable history and current line up of impressive tasters. With the first edition to South African wines finished sometime in 1979 or 1980, journalists John and Erica Platter sent a copy to Hugh Johnson accompanied by a letter of admiration for Johnson’s multi-country annual guide work that served as inspiration for the creation of their own local guide. With flattery and opportunism, Johnson congratulated them with a side offer to be his South African correspondents. Whether it was that association, Platter’s honest palate and sensibility, appropriate Cape cheer-leading, single reviewer palate consistency, or overall product poignancy, it remains the De facto reference guide to South African wine.
The Platter’s have moved on (without any apparent damage to the credibility or performance of the guide)and while the current publishers, under Editor Philip Van Zyl, do not taste blind deploy not deploy a single palate review reference point, the system does include a panel approach to corroborate a significant numbers of reviews. A quick scan of the guide’s tasters reveals Africa’s only Master of Wine and an impressive list of supremely qualified and titled local wine professionals. Their seven or eight reviews of wines I tasted are remarkably aligned with my notes in assessment of quality.
The current publishers are implementing a digital expansion plan and along with an online version which includes archived and current data (check it out by clicking here), you can find them on Facebook and follow on Twitter. Check out their wine-oh iPhone app too. While Platter’s sidesteps a controlled, laboratory style tasting regimen the thorough job by a list of serious pros creates an indispensable tool for about $20 US.